As we go through life, difficult situations are inevitable. Whether you feel it consciously or not, these events can have a lasting effect on you.
When it starts affecting your daily life, it can become detrimental to your sleeping and eating habits, your personal relationships, and your overall mental well-being. At this point, you might feel alone in your struggle and that you need some support. Consider trauma counselling.
Regardless of the life experiences you have had, it’s always beneficial to have a professional counsellor listen and provide guidance to ease your path.
What is trauma?
Trauma can happen to anybody and is very common. However, it looks different for everyone, meaning not everyone experiences life events in the same way. What might feel traumatic for one person might not for another; this is completely normal.
“The symptoms of trauma can be stable, that is, ever-present. They can also be unstable, meaning that they can come and go and be triggered by stress. Or they can remain hidden for decades and suddenly surface.” – Peter A. Levine, Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body
The uncontrollable elements are often accompanied by the fundamental need to survive. This can cause an inability to process the emotion of the event. This, combined with feeling very alone—both during and after the traumatic event—leads to unresolved trauma.
Then, consciously and unconsciously, unresolved trauma will have a negative impact throughout a person’s life.
When can trauma occur?
Trauma is often perceived to be the result of a “horrific” event. But that is a misperception. Rather, trauma is an emotional and physiological response to something out of a person’s control. This can apply to a wide range of life experiences.
Trauma can occur from ordinary life events, such as divorce, termination from a job (especially if there was public shaming or humiliation involved), being betrayed, illness, and loss. It can also result from more extreme events including abuse, rape, war crimes, and torture. It’s quite complex and can result from not just a single event, but several.
How can someone tell if they are suffering from trauma?
Trauma can feel like the rug’s being pulled out from under you; in other words, you suddenly feel unable to navigate your life as you used to. There can be stronger feelings—or even a lack of them—associated with events or situations.
You might have unexplained feelings or reactions to events or images that can’t seem to be explained. You might also have recurring thoughts that play over and over again or avoidance of certain things.
All of the unknowns from the above can be a sign of unresolved trauma, especially when it feels like your body is inhibiting you from your potential.
Trauma can show up in many ways:
- as a need to leave or avoid, as in “I can’t do this.”
- physical illness
- being frozen or stuck
- being overwhelmed with emotion
- responses that are out of proportion, including outbursts
- unwanted thoughts (intrusive thoughts)
- nightmares / insomnia
- inability to be close to people (isolation and loneliness)
- problems with intimacy/sex
What happens when trauma is not treated? What are the risks?
Although you may feel strong enough to separate your daily life from trauma, it might eventually bubble up to the surface. Whether on a conscious or unconscious level, it can leak into every aspect of your life, causing disruption and additional symptoms.
Traumatic memories are not properly stored in the brain when you aren’t fully able to cope with the situation. You can then relive these “stuck” memories whenever you come across a trigger. The trauma can then grow, leading to more negative feelings surrounding the event or situation.
A common coping method is disassociating, or “numbing out.” Disassociating is often what helps a person survive the initial trauma. In a way, the ability to separate yourself from the traumatic situation, even temporarily, kept you safe. However, continuous disassociation does not address the issues at hand. As a result, you may feel a deep sense of disconnection with yourself, with the people around you or with the communities where you live and work. In other words, your emotional connections or your emotional growth may be stunted.
What can you do to address your trauma?
First, you need to acknowledge the events or situations that led to your trauma. Building a new, healthy relationship with feelings you find intolerable can help you regain control over your life and/or feel more at peace with yourself again.
The most important step in addressing your trauma is letting someone in. No matter what your trauma is, shouldering it alone is not healthy. A very important part of healing happens in relationship, in the “undoing” of aloneness. Reclaim what was lost through the trauma. This will enable you to begin a process of healing where you can feel safe and trust in the world again.
An experienced and compassionate counsellor can guide you through all these steps and put you on the path towards healing. This may involve several therapeutic techniques.
Surviving traumatic events
In the midst of traumatic events, the human mind and body works to protect you. It is the fight, flight or freeze response which takes over to help you survive. This is natural and necessary for your survival.
However, when you’re not able to process the trauma in a healthy manner, the brain will get triggered by something in the present and acts as though the traumatic event is happening now. That is, our brain acts with an automatic fight, flight or freeze response – every time that you’re triggered.
This served you well during the traumatic event. But now, it’s getting in the way of your healing. Having someone who is trained and caring help you, is a critical part of the healing process. They will help you
- process the feelings you could not process before when it was unbearable, and
- undo the aloneness you find yourself in.
What is the counsellor’s role in recovery?
A counsellor is there to provide a safe place where you can process, talk, and heal from your trauma. Their role is guidance; you won’t be alone while you take the path towards healing and recovery. You’ll get help facing your most daunting memories at a pace you’re comfortable with, without pressure.
Counsellors have the appropriate skill set to gently guide and support you through healing your trauma. Once you gain awareness and understanding around how the trauma has been affecting your life, you can regain some power and control in making decisions that better serve you.
Healing trauma is a process with many layers. Counsellors, trained in trauma counselling, can help you access your stored emotions around the trauma which will ultimately lead you to a more empowered and present state. Where you no longer need to simply live by surviving, but rather you can begin to thrive and release the trauma to the extent that it no longer defines you.
“The healing process can be a catalyst for profound awakening—a portal opening to emotional and genuine spiritual transformation…We have the capacity to learn how to heal and prevent much of the damage done by trauma. In so doing, we will significantly increase our ability to achieve both our individual and collective dreams.” – Peter A. Levine, Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body
In our counsellors’ words
“There are observable physiological and psychological traits that appear when a trauma has happened. There is impaired functioning on some level that is adversely affecting a person’s ability to cope. It could be negatively impacting interpersonal relationships, a person’s ability to work, sleep, enjoy life etc. It can be accompanied by physical pain, nightmares, insomnia, panic attacks, depression, suicidal ideation, extreme shut down or freeze response. Lack of drive, motivation and a heightened sense of overwhelm in the person’s life.” – Julie Hughes
“It is quite common for people to compare their life situations to others, and say to themselves, well I didn’t have it that bad. That is a learned way of minimizing feelings and experiences, possibly as a way to cope with them. The truth is that everyone has had their own unique life experiences, some of them traumatic, that have impacted them often in very significant ways. Each person’s story deserves to be heard and each person’s feelings deserve to be cared for. Often counselling is the first place that a client gets to feel that their feelings mattered back then and matter now, without explaining them away or minimizing them.” – Anna Guest
“Working through trauma can be overwhelming and daunting. But it’s worth it. You’re worth it. I see my clients allow themselves to live their own lives. They get to make the calls. They get to enjoy their lives. Trauma counselling is about taking your power back. When we have trauma usually the last one who feels powerful is you. You deserve to take your power back, and live your life feeling safe and supported. That’s what everyone deserves. When you’re working through trauma, it just takes time to allow yourself to heal.” – Kayla Law